Selfless Service: Greater Trenton Expands Housing First Program

By Kristen Capano

As the 2016 Presidential Election rapidly approaches, discussions regarding mental health reform policy have continued to avoid the debate. Nevertheless, one certainty has remained consistent among all candidates — that every American, regardless of race or ethnic background, should be offered the same opportunities in order to succeed. That being said, one question advances — can these two topics exist independently?

For staff members at Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness, the answer is no. Over recent years, this New Jersey organization has made it their goal to rapidly rehouse Mercer County residents who suffer from homelessness in addition to mental illness and substance abuse. This program, known as Housing First, has been pushed by Oaks Integrated Care (formerly known as Greater Trenton Behavioral Healthcare) as a model to provide impoverished individuals with mental health issues apartments in order for them to get the medical attention they need — and it’s making a difference.

Beside Herself by KC
Beside Herself by KC

The Housing First program began its development back in 2008, when it was launched as a pilot program. Originally, its strategy was to place clients into shelters temporarily, and from there move them into transitional housing. Years later, the program was changed in attempt to move people into their own personal spaces, rather than under the same roof.

“Homelessness is the problem,” said John Monahan, former President and CEO of Oaks Integrated Care and current Chief Executive Officer of Housing First. “Our program [now] takes people off the street who have not been successful in the shelter system and puts them in apartments so that they can get healthy.”

By providing private housing situations rather than large-scale accommodations, individuals struggling with health issues — whether they be physical, mental, emotional, etc. — are safe from the diseases and traumatic events that inhabit the streets and are more likely to receive the treatment and space they need in order to establish themselves and/or their families.

Clients who suffer from mental illnesses as well as physical illnesses are usually picked up from one of the many state psychiatric hospitals and are then referred to the program by hospital staff or by personal choice.

“The mental health issues that we are finding most prevalent among those in the program are schizophrenia, major depression, bipolar disorder, and in 96 percent of cases, post-traumatic stress syndrome,” said Monahan. “Many clients also undergo different types of assault on the streets … you just can’t be healthy if you’re homeless, it’s not possible.”

Despite recent cutbacks from different funding sources that amounted in a major loss of $600,000, the program continues to receive an annual public grant from the New Jersey Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services, as well as a rent subsidy of $9,000 and direct services of $5,700 per person.

While $15,000 a year might seem like a lot, the original cost per person before cutbacks were made was around $12,000. Even emergency care police services cost more, amounting to a whopping $33,000 per year.

“For $15,000 a year, you’re helping someone get healthy,” said Monahan, who came across as enthusiastic when discussing savings. “There have been $4,000-$9,000 savings per person since last year, as well as a 78 percent medical reduction.”

Tuscany by Paul Norris
Tuscany by Paul Norris

Oaks Integrated Care also has access to data that both Medicaid and hospitals have in order to reinvest money into Housing First and preventive care.

Monahan also attributes much of the program’s success to the work of its dedicated staff. Those hired are required to have either a bachelor’s or master’s degree, usually in social work or psychology. This way, they are prepared to develop long-term relationships with the individuals they serve.

“For every staff member, there is a 16-person caseload,” said Monahan, comparing that figure to the 1-10 caseload from last year.

Regarding staff interactions with potential clients, Monahan added, “We hope to reduce the stressors that are afflicting [the patient], and from there we develop a relationship based on trust that helps them work through underlying problems.”

Although many of the homeless patrons adopted into this program improve their conditions after a mere couple of months, their relationships with the staff members will continue for years to come.

Last year, in 2014, Housing First served 165 chronically homeless individuals with disabling mental illnesses and another 185 residents who were in danger of losing their homes. Since then, Housing First has expanded to nine New Jersey counties, and has generated the most success in Trenton and Camden, where they have teamed up with the Good Care Collaborative, a group of New Jersey healthcare advocates led by Dr. Jeffrey Brenner that is committed to sensible Medicaid reform. Because of this success, Housing First currently houses 365 residents, a 33 percent increase from June 2014.

When asked if he saw any future success for the program, Monahan responded affirmatively: “I see this continuing,” said Monahan, “I would like to see people recognize that this is the way create more funding opportunities and to also keep people off the street — at the same time.”

Providing Stability: The Crisis Ministry of Mercer County

By Shai Bejerano

“Partnering with our community to achieve stability for our neighbors in need.” — Crisis Ministry, Mission Statement

The Crisis Ministry of Mercer County, located on Hanover Street and Clinton Avenue in Trenton, NJ, as well as Nassau Street in Princeton, NJ, offers a support system for those who need it. It has a variety of services designed to help individuals who are struggling with poverty, or simply making ends meet and improving their quality of life.

“Most of the people that come have a one-time financial crisis, because of unemployment or poor health,” said Sarah Unger, Communications and Development Director. “They are generally steady and stable in their home.”

The services are split into four parts: housing stability and homelessness prevention, hunger prevention and nutrition education, workforce development, and license to succeed.

Housing Stability and Homelessness Prevention

Meant for families and individuals facing foreclosure or eviction, this program is designed to keep people in their homes. Crisis Ministry offers emergency financial aid for things like utilities and security deposits. In order to be eligible, individuals need to bring three things with them to the Crisis Ministry: a photo ID, an eviction notice, and proof of income for one month.

The housing stability management program also works one-on-one with clients. It allows clients to stay in touch with a case manager, and fosters a mentor-mentee relationship that teaches them the basics of budgeting and finance. In addition, it can connect clients to different services that they may not yet be connected with. The goal is to strive for long-term housing stability, and Crisis Ministry will help every client the best they can to ensure that this happens.

“Of the people we serve 85 percent are still stably housed, six months to a year after we’ve given them assistance,” said Cynthia Mendez, the Director of the Housing Stability Programs.

Tweeting by Mary Shannon
Tweeting by Mary Shannon

Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Education

Much like the housing stability program, this service seeks to offer food stability to families and individuals that may not have much money to spend on food. However, instead of offering monetary assistance, the Ministry has Client Choice pantries in its three locations stocked with food to give to those who visit. They promote nutrition among low-income families by providing a wide variety of healthy produce and groceries.

In addition to offering health screenings and educational programs on nutrition for the patrons, Crisis Ministry offers personal hygiene necessities such as shampoo, toothpaste and soap.

Workforce Development

The Trenton locations of Crisis Ministry offer a training and education program known as Harvesting Hope. The program aims to qualify individuals for jobs in retail and other areas by providing them with job experience through working for the Ministry. It also offers them the opportunity to take online courses and career workshops to help them become more marketable to employers. Many of the graduates of Harvesting Hope have gone on to become employees at other establishments, or to obtain higher education.

License to Succeed

Working hand-in-hand with the Workforce Development, this service helps restore drivers’ licenses to people whose licenses may have been revoked due to an inability to pay fines for tickets or license renewals. It gives partial financial aid to offset the cost of the fees, and works with clients to come up with a manageable payment plan. With the help of License to Succeed, those individuals regained the freedom of driving, which improves job prospects and other qualities of life.

The services offered by the Crisis Ministry offers are excellent and vastly improve the lives of those using them. However, benefits of the Crisis Ministry do not stop at people in need. The Crisis Ministry also offers opportunities for people eager to get involved and make a difference.

One way to get involved with this organization is to volunteer.

“We consider our volunteers to be so essential to what we do. The fact that many of them come week to week to work, that kind of dedication I think, comes from the fact that they feel so welcome here. The welcome that we offer to our clients is the welcome that we offer to everyone,” said Unger.

Volunteering can be done onsite at the Crisis Ministry locations around Mercer County through assisting clients who visit or the administrative staff. Volunteering can also be done off-site by giving donations, conducting food drives, doing fundraising events, or helping out with inventory sorting, among other things.

The help of donations and volunteers is what has kept the Crisis Ministry successful in its mission for the past several years. Through its existence, a tremendous number of lives and neighborhoods in Mercer County have been changed for the better

Crisis Ministry of Mercer County

Phone: (609) 396-9355

Locations and Hours

123 East Hanover St. Trenton, NJ 08608

Food Pantry: M – F: 9:30 a.m. – 12 p.m.

Homelessness Prevention: M: 9 a.m. – noon; W: 1 – 3 p.m.; Th: 9 a.m. – noon

716 S. Clinton Ave. Trenton, NJ 08611

Food Pantry: M – F: 9:30 a.m. – 12 p.m.

61 Nassau Street Princeton, NJ 08542

Food Pantry: M, W & Th: 1:30 p.m. – 4 p.m.; T: 1:30 p.m. – 7 p.m.

Homelessness Prevention: M, W, Th 1:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.; T: 4 p.m. – 6 p.m

Preserving Families, Transforming Lives

By Jared Wolf

The plight of individuals experiencing homelessness in the Mercer County area remains a recurring issue that our community faces. This is especially problematic when these issues of poverty interfere with the well-being of children. As impoverished parents struggle to provide a nurturing environment to raise their families, their children face the challenge of experiencing a healthy childhood from which they can transition into a prosperous adulthood.

Despite the plethora of facilities, organizations, charities and government programs specifically designed to combat this issue, homelessness and poverty remain one of the greatest challenges to tackle in New Jersey.

In the past decade, homeless shelters and facilities have been reorganized, renovated and expanded in direct response to this inconvenient truth. One recently established facility in particular has made a tremendous impression on the Mercer County community in its short life span.

On Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015, HomeFront celebrated the Grand Opening of its Family Campus and Preservation Center at 101 Celia Way in Ewing, N.J. As a local nonprofit organization established to combat and lessen the immediate pain of homelessness by harnessing the resources and expertise of the community, HomeFront is beyond excited to make full use of the many resources and opportunities the amazing facility offers.

The newly opened Family Preservation Center Campus is making an immediate impact on the local community. As a fully funded public project, the new building is designed to provide a safe learning environment and shelter for families in need in the central New Jersey area.

Since opening, the facility has welcomed over 30 thankful families with open arms. The top floor has 30 residences for families with single moms, while the bottom floor has eight residences for families with single fathers, a new feature of the HomeFront program, which had previously been devoted to providing care for solely female parents.

Hey There by Emery Williams
Hey There by Emery Williams

According to Liza Peck, the Volunteer Coordinator for family campus, “The center works closely with a number of different agencies, such as the Mercer County Board of Social Services (MCBSS), to ensure that HomeFront can accommodate all the things a family needs in one space.”

Throughout the day, families are given opportunities to discover new interests, break bad habits and learn new skills. Children are provided with childcare every day. In addition to an art space and sewing area, via HomeFront’s already established program called ArtSpace, the Family Campus provides parenting and budgeting classes, housing and tutors.

“The overall impact of this building — every corner, every room, every decision that was made — is with an eye to making sure our guests are treated with dignity and respect,” said Director of Development Judy Long.

As Long envisioned the near future for the new facility and its families, the excitement in her voice was palpable.

“We want to give these families a vision for a better future with endless possibilities, not just by giving them hope, but by giving them the tools to fulfill that hope,” Long said.

In addition to the many skill-based workshops and programs, the residents are provided with Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT), which emphasizes the importance of thinking before you act. HomeFront has also included the WorkFirst program and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

The WorkFirst program is a welfare reform program offered to residents who are looking for new job and career opportunities. Career specialists are available daily in the Hofmann Career Center. Volunteers aid adult residents by providing them with the opportunities and resources they need to discover or realize their desired career path.

Healthcare services have been implemented in conjunction with local agencies to ensure the utmost comfort of guests. Cooking classes are located in the Teaching Kitchen with recipes for affordable, nutritious meals. There is a computer lab, lounge, library, yoga studio, music room and so much more.

The ArtSpace facility on the main floor of the center is a great place for guests to relax, cope with stress in healthy ways and escape from daily struggles.

According to one of the guests, Jamie, the ArtSpace program serves as “a place where we can learn a lot about ourselves.”

Jamie, who has been a part of the HomeFront family for two months due to her experiences with domestic violence, discussed how she has changed from the time she first starting living at the center.

“I have gained a more positive outlook on life,” said Jamie. “I can now see myself going further, beyond where I am today.”

While her struggles have not magically disappeared, Jamie saw a profound transformation in her attitude and well-being since she first arrived.

“I have an urge to want to do more — not just for myself, but for others,” Jamie said.

HomeFront Family Campus

101 Celia Way Ewing, N.J. 08628

Phone: (609) 989-9417



Reclaiming Time: “I’m hungry and have a thirst for life.”

By Raj Manimaran

“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.” — Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

The only way to describe the life of Hampton Jenks is extraordinary.

Stints at Jamesburg Juvenile Detention Center and Mountain View Youth Correctional Facility as a teenager, three years at Trenton State Prison and 10 years at Rahway State Prison; over 15 years in and out of incarceration, 30 years of struggling with drug addiction and lastly experiencing homelessness — when hearing only this portion of his biography, many would expect Jenks to have been another life lost to drugs and recidivism.

The dichotomy presents itself when you find out that he went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts and a master’s degree in Human Service Delivery, and that he is now working on his second master’s degree and hoping to eventually earn a PhD.

Jenks grew up in Trenton, N.J., attending the Monument Elementary School and Junior High School No. 3. That is, until his first brush with the law came at age 14. After returning home, Jenks’ life seemed to be revolving around jobs, school and correctional facilities. At age 17, he worked at Acme Rubber in Trenton, passed a precollege exam and was accepted to Burlington County Community College. Unfortunately, soon after, Jenks was arrested and sentenced to three years at Trenton State Prison. Two years after his release, Jenks was sent to Rahway State Prison for an additional 10-year sentence.

In 1990, Jenks was released from prison; he spent the next five years working a variety of jobs, even becoming a certified technician in HVAC and refrigeration. However, in 1995, he returned to jail for two years.

This would be Jenks’ last time inside a prison.

When asked what changed, Jenks responded, “My family stuck by me throughout my life. My father and three of my sisters passed away while I was in jail. They t

Without A Limit by Demond Williams
Without A Limit by Demond Williams

old me at the last minute and wouldn’t let me go to their funerals. I decided then, I would never go back to jail and miss someone else’s funeral.”

Jenks returned to school and came one class short of an associate’s degree before taking a job as an outreach worker at New Horizons Treatment Center in Trenton, N.J. For the next six years, he helped connect individuals to resources such as counseling and transitional services as they recovered from drug and alcohol addictions. Unfortunately, Jenks’ own drug addiction brought his life to impending crossroads.

In 2007, he lost his car and apartment to a debilitating heroin addiction and became homeless.

Finding shelter in abandoned buildings or the woods was not the worst part for Jenks.

“I still couldn’t stay away from the drugs,” said Jenks. “I would steal, just to get more.”

Jenks attributes his recovery from his addiction and homelessness to his support network.

“They saw things in me that I had forgotten about myself,” explained Jenks. “They reminded me that everyone was special and that I could do whatever I wanted to.”

Once he completed drug rehabilitation himself, Jenks sought to help individuals who were going through the same struggles as he had, and was hired by the Juvenile Justice Commission. Simultaneously, Jenks began working towards a degree at Thomas Edison State College and Lincoln University. He worked hard to maintain a 3.5 grade point average, and looked toward the big picture, all the while.

“I just prayed to keep my sanity,” said Jenks. “You can’t just need it, you have to want it more than anything.”

Today, Jenks works as a lead outreach worker for the Trenton Violence Reduction Strategy and has begun to work on a second Master’s Degree. He believes that education is crucial, but the lessons that life and his loved ones have provided him are irreplaceable and have made him the man he is today.

“Once someone planted the seed in me, my ambitions began to grow,” said Jenks. “The trust of others means a lot to me, and when people began helping open doors for me, it helped restore my faith in human nature. It’s been a great journey; the hard times helped me build character, and I learned something at each step. I’m hungry and have a thirst for life.”